Monday, October 31, 2016

Concert to Focus on Pittsburgh's Forgotten Ragtime Composers

Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra
Comes to Carnegie Carnegie Hall
Friday, November 4 at 7:30 p.m.

Renowned stride pianist and music historian Tom Roberts and the Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra (ACRO) introduce Pittsburgh’s forgotten ragtime composers. What a great idea!

Roberts has unearthed a trove of hidden musical gems that have been “lost” for more than a century. In addition to works by Pittsburgh composers George Reeg, K.F.W. Guenther and Carl Bruno, ACRO will perform compositions from the original orchestrations of the great composers of the ragtime
era – Scott Joplin, James Scott and Tom Turpin.

A dessert reception with the performers follows the concert, in the Lincoln Gallery. Tickets are $15 in advance, $25 at the door, and $10 for students. or call 412-276-3456.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

"Feeding the Dragon" - A Modern Day Fairy Tale

Sharon Washington on the set Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover
One character plays are not the rarity one might think. One character plays both written about and performed by the actor - now that’s another issue.

The impetus for "Feeding the Dragon," now getting it world premier at Pittsburgh City Theatre, was an article in the "About New York" section of the New York Times of a family that lived on the upper floor of the St. Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan.

There, the family patriarch served as the library custodian and, as part of his payment, received free rent for him and his family - a wife, daughter, the daughter’s grandmother and dog named Brownie. The Times article drew such interest that the daughter’s inbox was full of messages the following day from prospective writers wanting to pen the story of her unusual childhood experience.

Veteran actress of twenty-five years and winner of numerous acting awards, Sharon Washington decided to write her story herself, first as a children’s book that kept evolving as a memoir of her childhood. Eventually, she told her story in the form of a play she describes as a modern-day fairy tale, one that very well could be titled "The Little Girl Who Lived in the Library."

Living with immediate access to a large depository of books was Kismet for young Washington. She had a love of books and read them voraciously, preferring reading over other pastimes. Her knowledge of things literary helped get her a partial scholarship to the Dalton School attended by the well-heeled on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And being familiar with the works of a slew of authors also probably came as a boon when she decided to write her first play.

Looking like a svelte Toni Braxton with the energy of Chelsea Handler, she ambles all over the stage of the intimate Lester Hamburg Studio telling her anecdotes of her childhood family, friends and neighborhood like someone talking to a long -lost acquaintance with some catching up to do.

Lynx-like, she moves from a seat on a stool at the front of the stage and glides up three rows of stacked bookshelves that really serve as steps to a chair behind a table recalling the day her dog got out of the apartment and how the entire family frantically looked for the animal in the recesses of the library. Later, crouching down, she mimics Brownie’s reaction to some peanut butter the dog managed to eat, much to the delight of the audience.

Other tales follow like a string of lights on a Christmas tree, some humorous, others a bit more contemplative and sober. We learn of her grandmother, an elderly lady able to venture out of the apartment only on Sunday, when Pentecostal services are a day-long affair. Of her mother, who buys her clothes at thrift stores and wonders if any of the high society ladies she encounters at Dalton PTA meetings might remember her dress as something they once donated to charity.

We hear about her neighbors, like the chatty Mr. Sam who owns a neighborhood used furniture store and is eager for a sale, and or the bartender at a local tavern who serves her her first Shirley Temple during an outing with her Dad.

On a somber note, she takes us to the library basement with her father where he  stokes the furnace with coal, feeding the dragon as she likes to put it, only to wonder and worry what would happen to her and her family if he was no longer able to perform his job. About mid way through the play, she introduces another dark cloud that shadowed part of her childhood, an element the entire family had to live, a sword of Damocles dangling over their collective heads.

Amazingly, she wondrously captures the accents of the characters she introduces - five at my last count, be it the Southern drawl of her South Carolina relatives or Mr. Sam’s Yiddish-influenced language.

Abetting her polished performance is some fine work by director Maria Mileaf and the technical crew. The most poignant element Tony Ferieri’s somewhat spare set is the wall if glass-like  blocks set against the back of the stage that change color - blue, purple, white or multicolored, to reflect Washington’s change of mood or tone. Light designer, Ann G. Wrightson, perfectly synchronizes the color of the wall to match the script’s oft-changing frame of mind.

Just as striking is the music and sound design by Lindsay Jones, who not only underscores the action with appropriate music by adding some right-on sound effects that add depth to Washington’s autobiographical play.

As we approached the end of the play’s 80-minute duration (as mentioned in the program), I began to wonder how Washington would end her story. It seems she saved the best for last - a poetic summation with an emotional clout that brought a lump to my throat, a tear to my eye and a rousing standing ovation from an appreciative opening night audience.

Sharon Washington Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover

Sunday Talkback –Nov. 6
Conversation with the artists immediately following the 2:00 p.m. performances, moderated by City Theatre Artistic Staff.

Greenroom Young Professionals Night – Friday, Nov. 4 at 8:00 p.m.
$25 Greenroom ticket includes complimentary snacks, beer, and wine after the performance, and mingling with the cast. Use code GREENROOM when ordering.

Pay-What-You-Want – Saturday, Nov. 5 at 1:00 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 18 at 8:00 p.m. A limited number of tickets are reserved for PWYW and go on sale two hours before curtain, walk up sales only. Call the box office in advance to check on availability.

ASL Interpretation Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 7:00 p.m.
Open Captioning and Audio Description Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2:00 p.m.

City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203 (South Side)
Patron parking is available in the lot across from the City Theatre entrance for $8.
412.431.CITY (2489) or

Single tickets start at $37.50.
Season subscriptions are still available and three-show packages start at $99.

Audiences under 30 may reserve $15 tickets in advance for all performances except Fridays at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays at 5:30 p.m.; on Fridays and Saturdays, rush tickets are available two hours prior to show time and based on availability. Seniors age 62 and older may purchase $22 rush tickets at the Box Office beginning two hours before show time, based on availability. Groups of 10 or more are eligible for discounts – contact Joel Ambrose at 412.431.4400 x286.

Friday, October 28, 2016

PBT Principal Dancer Christopher Budzynski to Make Farewell Performance on October 29

Budzynski and Kochis in a Scene from "Giselle" Credit: Courtesy Photo

Over the course of his career – and his life – Giselle has been a touchstone of sorts for Principal Dancer Christopher Budzynski.

It was one of two top ballets he revered as a youngster. It was the first ballet he performed as a professional. It was the first time he performed a pas de deux with his wife, fellow Principal Dancer Alexandra Kochis.

And on Saturday, Oct. 29, it will be the final performance of his 22-season professional ballet career.

After 10 seasons with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Budzynski will retire from the stage after dancing the lead role of Albrecht opposite Kochis’ Giselle.

For a decade of fans, fellow dancers and audience members, it’s the end of an era.

But’s it’s also a new beginning for Budzynski, who will be joining the full-time faculty of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and helping to shape a new generation of aspiring artists. Starting this fall, he’ll take on a leadership role in the Men Division’s and instruct a variety of Pre-professional Division classes.

“It’s been such a journey. Part of the reason that the both of us looked toward coming to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre was the repertoire and getting to do these fabulous classical ballets,” Budznyski said. “Every role has had something special.  Every time you work with somebody whether it’s a teacher, a coach, a partner or somebody setting a ballet, that’s part of what you become. I just feel very lucky. Those are the things that I hope to take forward.”

For Budzynski and Kochis, Giselle will bring their partnership full circle, marking their first and final partnership onstage.

“It’s such a romantic, emotional ballet,” Budzynski said.

“It definitely has the underlying theme of parting, yet going on. So, that’s sort of apropos,” Kochis said.

The two met at Boston Ballet, where Budzynski danced for 12 seasons and Kochis danced for 11. Originally from Erwinna, Pennsylvania, Budzynski began training at a young age with his mother at Budzynski Studios located near Philadelphia. He later studied at the North Carolina School for the Arts, The School of American Ballet in New York City and Hungarian National Ballet School in Budapest. He joined Boston Ballet in 1994, and made his main-stage debut at age 19 as the lead Russian dancer in The Nutcracker. He was promoted to first soloist in 1999.

In 2006, Budzynski and Kochis made the move to Pittsburgh. From Swan Lake’s Prince Siegfried to the lead in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, his first season in Pittsburgh brought him opportunities to shine in several starring roles, which earned him a promotion to principal the following fall.

Since then, the couple has shared some of ballet’s most famous partnerships: Romeo and Juliet, Giselle and Albrecht (Giselle), the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier (The Nutcracker), Medora and Conrad (Le Corsaire), Nikiya and Solor (La Bayadѐre). From Giselle to Coppélia, it’s been tragic, joyous, comedic and everything in between.

“I think that Chris shaped me as a partner. My first soloist role was dancing with him,” Kochis said. “I think our partnership has definitely evolved and blossomed. I really feel like it’s a beautiful bouncing off of ideas, which is really rewarding for me.”

For Budzynski, it’s always been important to take the partnership beyond the mechanics of turning, lifting and supporting, working to create the illusion and fluidity that elevates it to art.

“It’s been wonderful. I think a big part of any partnership, and pas de deux work, is trying to create magic, trying to find those places that look a little more effortless,” Budzynski said.  “It takes a lot of work and a lot of trust.”

For Kochis, it’s been exhilarating to see Budzynski push beyond the box of his typical character types – the Basilios, Mercutios and other strong male roles of classical ballet – and continue to find new dimensions to those outside his comfort zone.

“Romeo & Juliet is something that was very different for many reasons. You’re not supposed to be this strong guy,” he said. “Learning how to hold yourself slightly different – maybe keeping your knees a little bit looser, even when you’re just standing there – trying to make yourself look a little more vulnerable. I thought that was an interesting process. It was fun doing it.”

Of all the roles in the repertoire, it feels like fate that Giselle will sound the final note in a beautiful ballet career. There’s a poignancy to their rehearsals that leaves viewers feeling like they’ve witnessed something unguarded, personal and very real.

For the duo, it starts by empathizing with their characters, placing them in a real time and state of mind and drawing from their own experiences for authenticity.

“The character of Albrecht is…” Budzynski started.

“Easily vilified,” Kochis jumps in with a laugh.

“You know, love happens sometimes when it’s not meant to happen, when it’s inconvenient. I’d say that’s more the way that we’re trying to go about it,” Budzynski said. “When a person’s in love it doesn’t matter if they’re noble, or a pauper or a peasant. Your heart does the same thing. I’d say the same of when you lose everything. Those emotions are human. I’m trying to have that resonate within the character.”

Over 22 years, Budzynski has never lost the thirst for improving, looking around him, and weaving new insights and influences into his dancing. It’s part of the special stamp he brings to the stage.

“I think his energy, his vivacity, his relatability…He’s a person that’s larger than life, but relatable at the same time,” Kochis said. “I felt really fortunate for his open-mindedness and patience in coaching – not trying to make everybody do it the same way, but finding a way that works for them. Not being intimidated by having to break it down. He’s excellent at helping people through that same process.”

It’s a zeal she feels confident will live on through her own performances and those of other dancers that he’s worked with and will continue to coach.

“Looking back, I just can’t imagine it any other way. I’ve enjoyed dancing here, enjoyed the audiences, the theater, the repertoire, the coaches, and partners that I’ve gotten to experience,” Budzynski said. “I look at what I knew or what I thought I knew when I first came here. I look at all that I’ve learned here and it’s wonderful.”

Now, he’ll be channeling all of these insights as he works to shape young dancers in class and over time. He’ll be remembering himself at their age.

 “A lot of the corrections or stories that were told to me 30 years ago, I remember crystal clear. All of that goes into what you become,” Budzynski said. “It’s how it’s blended together that makes you what you are and what you love doing. Ballet is a lot of work, a lot of studying, a lot of effort, but it’s also a lot of fun if you can make it your own. When you’re teaching, you’re hoping to pass these things on.”

Budzynski will give his farewell performance at the 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, performance of "Giselle." Other performances are on October 28 and 30. For tickets. phone 412-456-6666 or online at

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pittsburgh Ballet Opens Season with "Giselle"

Amanda Cochrane & Yoshiaki Nakano in a Scene from "Giselle" Credit Duane Rieder

Three days before Halloween, Pittsburgh Ballet theatre opens its 47th season with a story of haunting beauty - "Giselle," with the PBT Orchestra. In this spine-tingling tale, a lover's lie triggers a tragic turn of fate for a young girl. As this love story spirals into darkness, the ballerina brings to life one of the most iconic roles in the repertoire. Along with a revival of Adolphe Adam's original score, PBT will unveil atmospheric new scenic and costume designs in celebration of Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr's 20th anniversary season.

Drawing from supernatural themes of the Romantic era and Eastern European folklore, the story of Giselle juxtaposes love and betrayal, life and death, vengeance and forgiveness as a young girl descends to the unearthly realm of the Wilis. 

The story opens with a blossoming village girl, euphoric in love. But Giselle’s hopes shatter when she learns her love, masquerading as a peasant, is already engaged to a noblewoman from his own class.  Here the story unmoors from the mortal world. When the curtain rises on Act II, Giselle is no longer among the living.

Excerpted from the Giselle Audience Production Guide, here are six spook factors that will raise the hair on your neck. 

That Gives Me the Willies! This phrase, about something that sends a chill down your spine, may have originated from the ghostly Wilis of Giselle. Giselle is a 19th century masterpiece of the Romantic era, when themes in ballet shifted to nature, individuality and the supernatural. The inspiration was a Slavonic legend of the Wilis, ghosts of young maidens who died of grief after their love was betrayed.

Photo Courtesy PBT

As the legend goes, their spirits haunt the highways in the dark of night, luring young men and forcing them to dance to their deaths. The legend of the Wilis predates Giselle and assumed shifting forms throughout Eastern European folklore. From maidens who were cursed by God to those who died unbaptized, the variations and pronunciations varied throughout the region. One variation is found in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with the Veela, magical beings whose entrancing beauty compels men to dance to their deaths. In Giselle, the Wilis are frightening, yet tragic figures — young women doomed to perpetual heartbreak. 

The Mad Scene: From the festive village scene to the otherwordly aura of Act II, the role of Giselle takes the ballerina on an incredible arc of emotions and movement qualities. And at the end of Act I, as Albrecht's betrayal becomes apparent, Giselle just kind of...snaps. "She replays in her mind—with halting steps and distracted motions — the daisy scene, where he swore his love to her; she stumbles through the steps of their first pas de deux. Her hair comes down, her anguish on full display. Finally, she dies, from a weak and broken heart," writes Lisa Auel, PBT's manager of Audience Education.

Photo Courtesy PBT
Musical Foreshadowing: One of ballet's first original scores, the music of Adolphe Adam also innovates with recurring musical themes that characterize roles and moods throughout the narrative. One eerie example is Giselle and Albrecht’s first love theme, which ironically echoes during Giselle’s mad scene at the end of Act I. The musical theme of the Wilis also shadows Giselle’s mother’s premonition in Act I and again following Albrecht’s betrayal.  

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: Featured in Giselle Act I, this schoolgirl daisy game traces its written roots to the pages of a nun’s 1471 songbook. As Giselle plucks petals from a daisy in Act I, however, this light-hearted game foreshadows Albrecht’s ill-fated betrayal.

Ballet en Blanc: First seen in La Sylphide (1832), this term refers to scenes that feature the female corps de ballet costumed in pure white, dancing completely unified choreography. Sometimes referred to as “pure ballet,” it emphasizes the larger patterns and dramatic power of the corps, which assumes a menacing aura in Giselle. Act II finds Ballet en Blanc taking the ghostly character of the Wilis who (wearing their wedding dresses and veils), with their signature "flattened" arabesques, move into frightening formations. The Wilis did ballet blanc before the swans in Swan Lake and the shades in La Bayadère.

Photo Courtesy PBT

The Ballerina’s Dual Role: Perhaps even more subtle than the dual role of Swan Lake’s Odette and Odile, Giselle requires intricate artistry to embody first an earthly, then an ethereal essence, a mystique that makes it the ballerina’s definitive dramatic role. From Giselle’s joyful 32 ballonnés  - a bouncing hop – to her Act II arabesques with the Wilis, the foreboding builds from the Mad Scene all the way to her grave site.

According to Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr, "When we meet Giselle in Act I, she is euphoric in love. When she reenters in Act II, a chill runs down our spine. This is a young girl who spirals from joie de vivre to darkness in the blink of an eye. The shift in movement quality is exquisite, from buoyant leaps to an ethereal weightlessness."

Photo Courtesy PBT

Meet the Four-legged Star of 'Giselle'

It takes a certain quality to star in a ballet performance. Composure. Elegant carriage. Charisma. Grace.  

Five-year-old Ellie, a pure-breed Great Dane, checks every box. This 175-pound canine will strut across the Benedum Center stage during PBT’s season opener Giselle with the PBT Orchestra.

Look for her (she won’t be hard to spot) among the Act I hunting party, which plays a key role in the plot twist of this haunting love story.

Photo Courtesy PBT

When Ellie takes the stage, she’ll also put the spotlight on an important cause: Pennsylvania Great Dane Rescue. Ellie is a rescue dog and she’s currently up for adoption.

“Great Danes are regal looking, usually they’re well reserved…and usually a Great Dane loves to be with people,” said Jean Matvey, whose first dog, Mona, inspired her to launch the rescue in 2008. “I know (Ellie), she’s very well trained, I trust her. “She’s a good dog. She’s great with cats, with other dogs and she’s excellent with people. She’s huge…and she thinks she’s small.

Ellie’s main-stage appearance with a first for the Great Danes under Matvey’s care, but she says she’d do anything to “anything to promote the rescue.” Between feeding, exercising, taking in and placing the dogs, Matvey and her husband’s lives revolve around their Great Dane family – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“By now it’s so part of my life that I don’t even think about it,” she said. “To me it’s work. It’s a job, but yet it’s a job that I love.”

Matvey founded the rescue in 2008 to provide a needed service for Great Danes and Great Dance mixes – a breed Matvey says is particularly vulnerable at shelter due to their size and space needs. The rescue also welcomes dogs with special needs.

“This isn’t a breed that people think of going to shelter. But they do.”

 This year alone, they’ve taken in 95 dogs, which come from throughout the tri-state area and even from abroad on occasion. Together with a team of about 20 volunteers and a network of foster families, Matvey shelters the dogs, and meticulously matches them with an adoptive family.

“Usually, whenever I get the dogs in, I think of it as, ‘this is the first day of their new life’ and we just go on from there.”

In addition to adoptive families, the rescue always is looking for committed volunteers to foster dogs, help with transportation and assist with administrative projects. Donations, which help cover bedding, food, vet visits and other needs, also are welcome. For more information, or to get involved, visit or email

See Ellie onstage during Giselle with the PBT Orchestra on Friday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 29, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m. For tickets, phone 412-456-666 or visit website

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cirque Mechanics Pushes the Boundaries of Circus Traditions

Cirque Mechanics at Byham October 24 at 7 p.m. Credit Courtesy Photo

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announces Cirque Mechanics will perform Pedal Punk on Monday, October 24, 2016, at 7:00 p.m., at the Byham Theater, 101 Sixth Street in Pittsburgh.  This performance is part of the Cohen & Grigsby Trust Presents series, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Pedal Punk combines traditional circus disciplines with bicycles on a cycling inspired set and follows a zany bike shop mechanic as he meets cyclists, repairs their bikes and creates innovative pedal powered machines.  The troupe describes their show as a rowdy circus where the mischief is on wheels!

Creative Director Chris Lashua had no trouble incorporating cycling into this new show, since his career has always revolved around wheels, either on a BMX bike or an acrobatic German Wheel.  In Pedal Punk, Lashua and Cirque Mechanics explore the connection between man and machine in an exciting performance.

Lashua founded Cirque Mechanics in 2004 and is based in Las Vegas.  The group delivers productions that bring together the circus arts, the theater and the mechanical for shows that blend realism with American ingenuity.

Spectacle Magazine says Cirque Mechanics is “the greatest contribution to American circus since Cirque de Soleil.”

For more information about Pedal Punk and Cirque Mechanics, visit

For more information about the Cirque Mechanics creative team, visit
To watch a performance clip of Pedal Punk,visit:

To watch behind the scenes Making of Pedal Punk, visit

Tickets ($25-$45) are available through these Pittsburgh Cultural Trust official ticket sources:, by calling 412-456-6666, or in person at Theater Square Box Office, 655 Penn Avenue. For groups of 10 or more, call 412-471-6930.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Red Wine of Note From Spain

An Intense Red Wine from Spain

This affordable red wine from Ribera del Duero, Spain, is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and 5% Mazuelo that is aged for 24 months in American white oak and  further aged for 2 years in bottles before it's released. The Regulatory Board of Denomination of Origin Rioja cites the 2011 harvest as "excellent" with one of the best results in the last 30 years.

The color of this Rioja is bright, ruby red with tints of red brick iridescence. The nose is intense with leather, tobacco, herbaceous and berry notes.On the palate, it's rich, full-bodied and spicy with flavors of red fruits, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla with a hint of charcoal. The robust flavor of this Rioja makes it a good match from everything from grilled red meats and game stews to Tex-Mex and pasta dishes, cheeses and chocolate desserts.

With an alcoholic content of 13.5%, a 750 ml bottle retails for around $15.

Throughout history Bordon Reserva Rioja wine has been one of the most awarded wines of Franco-Spanish Bodeas.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Acclaimed Brazilian Chef V\isits Pittsburgh for One-Night Culinary/Cultural Experience

Grilled coalho cheese with sugar cane brown syrup, & a variety of other small bites by chef Ana Luiza Trajano Credit: Alexandre Schneider

On November 4 at 6 p.m. at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Chef Ana Luiza Trajano,  renowned for research into Brazilian foodways, will visit Pittsburgh  for a one-night-only cultural experience pairing a multi-course meal with one of Brazil’s greatest artists.

Chef Trajano, of São Paulo’s acclaimed restaurant Brasil a Gosto, will respond to Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium, CMOA’s premiere of the hotly-anticipated traveling exhibition. According to The New York Times, Brasil a Gosto “unloads an avalanche of flavors and textures and experiences without intimidating.”

Chef Ana Luiza Trajano Credit: Alexandre Schneider

Trajano’s menu draws upon her love of Oiticica’s art, and her recipes are gathered from her extensive research travels throughout rural Brazil. After returning from training and work in Italy in 2003, Trajano embarked on an expedition to gather the recipes, ingredients, folklore, and hand-crafts of traditional Brazilian cooking. Her restaurant and cookbooks reflect a commitment to this cuisine, refined through her European training while remaining authentic to its roots.

The FEAST: Oiticica menu includes:

Grilled coalho cheese with sugar cane brown syrup, & a variety of other small bites (See photo above)

Beetroot cream with flocked tapioca porridge and salty granola

Credit: Alexandre Schneider

Roasted fish in banana tree leafs, farofa made with dendê (orange palm tree oil), coconut rice and pirão

Fish Course Credit:Alexandre Schneifer

Oiticica’s revolutionary art moves from rhythmic geometric painting to massive, multisensory environments suffused with color and texture, inviting visitors to walk through water, relax in a hammock, or wind through maze-like structures. When they aren’t busy sampling Chef Trajano’s delectable food, FEAST visitors will explore the exhibition.

For more information, and to register, visit

To learn more about the series, visit

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"The Toxic Avenger" - Super-Animated Cast a Match for Its Superhero Humor

Evan Ruggiero as Toxie and Katie Sexton as Sarah Credit: Matt Polk 

Back in May, when I caught a Pittsburgh CLO production of "39 Steps" at the Cabaret Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh, I described the show as "dazzlingly entertaining" and thought "it could hardly get better than this."

Well, surprise, surprise. After seeing "The Toxic Avenger," the latest CLO production at the Cabaret Theater, I raised my benchmark for high quality entertainment another notch. Not bad for a musical comedy that got its birth as a B-grade, non musical film with the same title made in 1984 by Lloyd Kaufman.

For those unfamiliar with the film, as am I, the plot centers around a mild-mannered geek named Melvin Ferd the Third who is transformed into a muscular killer after he'’ dumped into a vat of toxic radioactive waste by a pair of thugs. Melvin, a crusader of sorts advocating for a clean and green environment, himself turns green as well as hideously deformed after his mishap.

It seems his inquisitive nature got him into trouble when he discovered in the deep recesses of the Tromatown (read Traumatown) library that the town’s mayor was also the covert owner of the enterprise responsible for dumping toxic waste on the nearby New Jersey landscape  To shut him up, the mayor orders his quick dispatch by her ruffian henchmen.

Even before his transformation, Melvin develops a romantic attraction to Sarah, a town librarian who also happens to be blind. White cane in hand, Sarah is ambivalent about her feelings for Melvin - until his plunge into the toxic bath. Though Melvin may be hideous to behold with his bumpy green skin and left eyeball dangling along side his nose, Sarah is blind to his defects and is actually aroused by his more aggressive attitude.

More monster than super hero, Melvin as the Toxic Avenger might be great fodder for Halloween themed theatrics if it wasn’t for the comedy skills of its authors - Joe DiPietro and David Bryan of Bon Jovi fame. They’re the same duo responsible for "Memphis," which garnered Bryan Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestration back in 2010.
In their capable hands, the horror and terror so sought after during the ghoul season at the end of October are supplanted by laughter, chortles and sniggering for a more light-hearted holiday experience.

The pieces for the Pittsburgh CLO production fit together with award-winning qualities of their own starting with the rambunctious cast of five headed by Evan Ruggiero as the title character. Transformed into a appallingly unattractive superhero, his Avenger has somehow retained his interests in environmental advocacy. But that’s putting it mildly because this once meek gent now savagely manhandles his opponents and antagonists with superhuman strength that literally tears them limb from limb, head from torso..

His murderous deeds are done in such as way by inspired stagecraft that, instead of inducing a sense of terrifying horror, the dismemberments come off . . . well, as ultra comic moments that both titillate and disgust.

Ruggiero is convincing both in his initial mild-mannered persona and as the reconstructed, toxified, machismo-driven hulk. However, despite his new-found physical empowerment, he still cowers in the presence of Sarah (Katie Sexton), a self-assured, soft-hearted, attractive though ditzy headed looker, scripted by the authors as a stereotypic blonde.

As one of the cast members says "she’d be Mother Theresa if she wasn’t blind and HOT."
Keep an eye out on Quinn Patrick Shannon as the White Dude and Billy Mason as the Black Dude. First seen as the burley thugs with deep voices and meaty physiques, they later take on a several multi-gender personalities that are nothing short of hilarious. Isn’t it amazing what a wig and a pair of pumps can do to turn the audience into a gaggle of giggling gawkers?

The two men often steal the scene with their high-energy camp, acting as though they were thrilled every moment they’re on stage, exuding so much charm and charisma in the process, you’d almost expect them to ignite spontaneously into flame.

And speaking of igniting, wait till you experience the entrance of Caroline Nicolian as mayor Babs Belgoody. She comes on like gangbusters belting out with Jennifer Holiday-like panache "Jersey Girl," a tune that makes you sit up and take notice.

Nicolian gives her Machiavellian mischief making a palpable credibility, but when she later portrays a second character, that of Melvin’s frail mother that reminded me of Granny in the old Silvester and Tweety Bird cartoons, she shows an unbelievable range of Thespian skills.

The musical score is a mix of mostly pleasant pop rock style tunes with a ballad or two mixed in for variety’s sake. One song naughtily titled "Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore" gives you the impression that you might not want to take impressionable preteens to this particular production.

One musical highlight of note is a Shannon solo done on guitar to a Bruce Springsteen melody retitled "The Legend of the Toxic Avenger." It brought down the house the evening of my visit despite the fact that it was done without backup from the three piece combo that accompanies the singers from a lofty dais in the middle of the stage.

Tony Ferrieri designed the industrial looking set, a rather bleak looking melange of wire fencing, metal barrels and corrugated sheets of metal that envelop the audience on two sides. Costuming appropriate to the story line is by David Woolard.

Wes Grantom’s direction was so right-on I wondered if he wasn’t also a veteran stand up comedian.
He got the pacing, timing and blocking down pat and, if he had anything to do with selecting the cast, he got that right too. Watch for some of his hilarious nuances you might miss if you’re not alert like the pair of copulating rats at stage right and what the blind Sarah offers Melvin as an additive to his tea.

At intermission I was exhausted by sheer exuberance, inventive creativity and boisterous mirth of it all and wondered how Act Two could possibly continue the comedic artistry after a fifteen minute cool down. But minutes into the second half the fun rekindles and the show plunges head long into a memorable moment of theatrical magic when Sexton, with the aid of Shannon and Mason, plays two roles simultaneously in a scene that gets progressively outrageous.

In Toxic, gruesome was never so toothsome.

The Toxic Avenger is at the Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue, in downtown Pittsburgh through December 18. For tickets, phone 412-456-6666 or

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Finding Neverland - You'll Find It at the Benedum in Pittsburgh Starting Tuesday

Laura Michelle Kelly of the Original Broadway Cast Credit: Carol Rosegg

Based on the Academy Award-winning Miramax motion picture by David Magee, and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee, FINDING NEVERLAND follows the relationship between playwright J.M. Barrie and the family that inspired Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up – one of the most beloved stories of all time.

Directed by Tony®-winner Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair) with book by Olivier Award® -nominee James Graham, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow (Take That) and Grammy Award®- winner Eliot Kennedy, and choreography by Emmy Award®-winner Mia Michaels (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Cirque du Soleil’s Delirium), this new musical, packed with mesmerizing visuals, irresistible songs and plenty of laughs, is a timeless story about the power of imagination… and spectacular proof that you never really have to grow up.

The production features scenic design by Tony Award®-winner Scott Pask (Pippin, Book of Mormon), lighting design by Tony Award®-winner Kenneth Posner (The Coast of Utopia, Pippin), costume design by Suttirat Larlarb (Of Mice and Men), sound design by Tony Award®-nominee Jonathan Deans (Pippin, La Cage aux Folles), hair and make-up design by Richard Mawbey, projection design by Jon Driscoll and casting by Stewart/Whitley. \

In Pittsburgh, FINDING NEVERLAND premieres at the Benedum Center, 237 7th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, October 18-23, 2016, as part of the 2016-2017 PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Symphony, and Broadway Across America. 

Performances are Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday evening at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. On Wednesday, October 19, at 6:30 p.m. PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh patrons are invited to join us for a free pre-show talk, Know The Show Before You Go, held at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805-807 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information visit:

Tickets ($26-$80) to FINDING NEVERLAND at the Benedum Center are available at these Pittsburgh Cultural Trust official ticket sources:, by calling 412-456-4800 or in person at Theater Square Box Office, 655 Penn Avenue. For information about the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh subscription series, visit or call 412-456-1390.  Tickets for Groups of 10+ are available online at or call 412-471-6930.

For more tour and casting information:

Twitter: @NeverlandBway Instagram: @FNLmusical

Friday, October 14, 2016

Renowned Polish Pianist in Concert at Frick Fine Arts Auditorium in Oakland

Polish Pianist Ewa Poblocka in Concert at Frick Fine Arts Auditorium Credit: Courtesy Photo

The piano keys are black and white,
but they sound like a million colors
in your mind.
—Mexican writer, Maria Cristina Mena

That’s what the organizers of the forthcoming piano recital of the famous Polish pianist Ewa Pobłocka hope to evoke .

Ms. Pobłocka will perform works of Mozart,Schubert, Paderewski, and Chopin on Friday, October 21, 7:30 PM at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, the University of Pittsburgh, Oakland.

EWA POBŁOCKA is a world-renowned pianist, and one of Poland’s most distinguished
 teachers. She is the laureate of many international piano competitions, including the International Fryderyk
Chopin Piano Competition, Warsaw, Poland; and the International Viotti Competition in Vercelli, Italy. She was the gold medalist of the International Festival of Young Laureates in Bordeaux, France.

Pobłocka has performed throughout most of Europe, as well as in both Americas, in Japan, Singapore, Korea, and Australia. She has appeared in concert with many prominent orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Polish National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw, the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra in Katowice, just to name a few.

She has been broadcast widely and has recorded over 40 discs. One can go on and on describing her many achievements, but her talent didn’t just appear in a vacuum. Before she graduated from the Music Academy
in Gdańsk and won the laurels of the international competitions, Ewa Pobłocka appeared in many concerts with her mother, soprano Zofia Janukowicz-Pobłocka, accompanying the masterpieces of the European vocal art.

Today, Ewa Pobłocka can often be heard in a family Trio, with her multitalented daughters, Ewa and Maria Leszczynski: mother is at the piano, the elder daughter sings soprano and plays the piano, and the younger daughter plays the piano, cello and saxophone.

Piano Recital—Not to be Missed!

 Performing in various instrumental configurations, the Multi Trio always promotes Polish music, captivating enthusiastic audiences with their musicality and unique style.

The piano recital on October 21 is presented in partnership with the Polish Cultural Institute in New York. It is also supported in part by The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts through the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts It is not to be missed!

Regular tickets: $35, PCC members: $30, Students & Children: $10 To order tickets please send your check to: PCC, Box 81054, Pittsburgh, PA 15217,

Thursday, October 13, 2016

off the Wall Opens 10th Season with Confrontational Drama for Mature Audiences Only

off the WALL productions opens their 2016-17 - 10th anniversary season with “An Accident”  written by Lydia Stryk.
Often seething with cynical humor, An Accident is a visceral and emotional story about recovery, guilt, and forgiveness.
Libby is run over and critically injured in an accident. The driver, Anton, appears at her bedside.
Libby’s recovery is defined by coming to terms with the man who hit her, and mirrored by Anton’s wrestle with his guilt and responsibility.

The sharply defined stages of her progress occur within the context of their wary, forthright, prickly, warm, confrontational, and erotically charged interactions.

For Mature Audiences Only

Directed by Linda Haston
With: Amy Landis, Ken Bolden, Hilary Caldwell

Ten performances: Oct. 14-15, 20-22, 27-29 at 8pm / Oct. 16 & 23 at 3pm
Tickets: $ 5.00 - $ 40.00
Phone (724) 873-3576

City Theatre Extends Run of "Hand To God"

A Scene from "Hand To God"  Maggie Carr as Jessica and Nick LaMedic a as- Jason/Tyrone Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover
With sold-out performances through the planned closing date of October 16, City Theatre is thrilled to announce an extension of the wildly popular Broadway comedy, Hand to God by Robert Askins. Directed by Artistic Director Tracy Brigden, Hand to God features a cast of five local and national performers and nine wayward puppets.

The added performances are Wednesday, October 19 at 7:00 p.m., and Thursday, October 20, Friday, October 21, and Saturday October 22, all at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.

In a church basement in a little town in Texas, something evil is afoot. Or, well — at hand. The youth group has a monster in its ranks: a rogue puppet named Tyrone. He’s hijacked the hand of timid teen Jason and there’s nothing his classmates, his mother, or the pastor can do to exorcise this foul-mouthed demon. Hand to God is a thrill ride of a comedy about good and evil, sex and sin, faith, and the filthy mind of one twisted sock puppet. It is the Pittsburgh premiere of the uproarious Tony Award® Nominated Broadway hit The New York Times called “Flat out hilarious.”

Hand to God is directed by Tracy Brigden. Performing the role of Jason/Tyrone is Nick LaMedica in his City Theatre debut. The cast includes Pittsburgh favorites Maggie Carr as Jessica/Jolene, Michael Greer as Timmy, Tim McGeever as Pastor Greg, and Lisa Velten Smith as Margery. The production team includes Tony Ferrieri (scenic designer), Tracy Christiansen (costume designer), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting designer), Elizabeth Atkinson (sound designer), Stephanie Shaw (puppet designer), Nancy McNulty McGeever (dialect coach), and  Diego Villada (fight choreography). Casting is by Caparelliotis Casting/Lauren Port.

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: September 24 – October 22, 2016
For a complete listing of show times, please visit or call 412-431-2489.

Felt Up!
A Puppet-making Workshop and Brunch
Saturday, October 15 at 11:30 a.m.
Join City Theatre and the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse at City Theatre’s home in the South Side to make your very own Tyrone!
Enjoy a complimentary Bloody Mary or Mimosa, grab some snacks, and make a one-of-a-kind hand puppet using recycled and repurposed materials from the PCCR. There are only 20 spaces available for the puppet-making workshop and it includes a ticket to the 1:00 p.m. performance of Hand to God. Tickets are $50.

Open Captioning and Audio Description Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2:00 p.m.

City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203 (South Side)
Patron parking is available in the lot across from the City Theatre entrance for $8.

412.431.CITY (2489) or

Single tickets start at $37.50.
Subscription packages are still available and start at $99.

Audiences under 30 may reserve $15 tickets in advance for all performances except Fridays at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays at 5:30 p.m.; on Fridays and Saturdays, rush tickets are available two hours prior to show time and based on availability. Seniors age 62 and older may purchase $22 rush tickets at the Box Office beginning two hours before show time, based on availability. Groups of 10 or more are eligible for discounts – contact Joel Ambrose at 412.431.4400 x286.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Cultural Trust Seeking Artist Applicants

3 Rivers Arts Festival - Aerial View Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is officially accepting applications for participants in the 58th annual Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, June 2-11, 2017. The nation’s premier free arts festival seeks a diverse group of visual and performing artists of all disciplines and career stages. The festival attracts half a million visitors annually to enjoy an extensive array of music, performance, visual arts, crafts/art making activities and a renowned Artist Market.

“We are pleased to continue celebrating original works from regional artists and newcomers, leading to a selection of world-class, renowned exhibitions and shows,” said Sarah Aziz, director of the Three Rivers Arts Festival and other special projects for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. This year’s call for visual and performing artists welcomes artists and performers who have never before participated in TRAF, emphasizing brand new art and original work. Applications will be accepted from October 3, 2016 through January 17, 2017. Application status notifications will be sent to all applicants in late March of 2017.

Travel + Leisure named Pittsburgh one of the Best Places to Travel in 2016, stating “the Steel City is reforging itself into the Arts City.” This is evidenced by the 10-day arts celebration in downtown Pittsburgh, which attracts local, regional, national and international artist participation. In 2017, artists will have the opportunity to explore the following opportunities:
Artist Market presented by Peoples – a renowned market, featuring over 300 artists selling one-of-a-kind pieces

Juried Visual Art Exhibition – showcasing new regional art in a variety of media, juried by an esteemed panel

Emerging Artist Scholarship Program – providing individuals with little to no experience the opportunity to produce their first show

Music & Performing Arts – showcasing the original work of dancers, actors, literary and performance artists

Special Project / Collaboration – creative original concepts, multidisciplinary work and collaborations that emphasize engaging the audience directly and working beyond traditional stages
Applications will be accepted from October 3, 2016 through January 17, 2017. To learn more about the submission categories and to apply, visit or call (412) 456-6666.
Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival

The Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, is a 10-day celebration of the arts in downtown Pittsburgh unlike any other in the nation. This world-class, multi-disciplinary festival is free to attend and open to the public. Attracting over 500,000 visitors annually, the Festival begins on the first Friday in June and takes place at the confluence of Pittsburgh’s famed three rivers in Point State Park, throughout picturesque Gateway Center, and in the city’s world-renowned Cultural District

 Now in its 58th year, the Festival’s loyal visitors have enjoyed an extensive array of music, performance, visual arts, crafts/art-making activities and a renowned Artist’s Market featuring over 300 artists from around the country. Artists are selected through a rigorous jury process–emphasizing quality, craftsmanship and presentation–in a wide variety of media, from jewelry to painting, woodworking to photography. The programming line-up for the 58th annual Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival will be announced in the spring of 2017.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pittsburgh Savoyards Start 79th Season with Bicentennial Celebration

Pittsburgh Savoyards Launch New Season

The Pittsburgh Savoyards prepare to launch a new season of topsy-turvy fun with Giacomo Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi, followed by Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury. The production is set to run Oct. 7-9 and 13-16, 2016 at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall at 300 Beechwood Ave, Carnegie, Pa 15106.

Longtime music director and conductor Guy Russo will lead the ensemble and orchestra, and stage director Jim Critchfield will bring both operas to life, giving them a fresh Pittsburgh-themed interpretation in honor of the city bicentennial.

Both one-acts, the comic operas will be performed together each night as a double feature. The operas will also be performed in English and with supertitles projected above the stage accompanying the song lyrics each night. Adult general admission tickets will be $25 each at the box office, with discounted admission available for children, students and seniors.

Those who order tickets by Oct.4 can take advantage of the special early bird discount. Local non-profit organizations have the opportunity to apply for limited blocks of free tickets to any of the performances.    Interested organizations can direct inquiries to or call 412-734-8476. If the number of applications exceeds the amount of available tickets, non-profits with an educational mission will take precedence.

The company invites all attendees of the opening night performance to attend a free reception, located upstairs from the music hall and scheduled to immediately follow final curtain call. There, audience members can celebrate the show’s opening over food and wine with the cast, crew, orchestra, and administrative board.

Critchfield’s Pittsburgh-themed version of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi centers on the Donati family, who mourn the loss of their patriarch Buoso. Upon discovering that Buoso left his entire fortune to a monastery, the greedy family members hire title character Gianni Schicchi, a self-made man, to attempt to rewrite Buoso’s will by having Schicchi impersonate the dead man and trick the notary into signing the new will. A series of secret deals and ridiculous plans that lead to a twist provide the comedic element of the work.

Following Gianni Schicchi, Trial by Jury brings the audience to the court case of plaintiff Angelina and defendant Edwin. After breaking off his engagement with Angelina, the fickle-hearted Edwin tells the court he has fallen in love with another woman and eventually proposes to simply marry both women, a suggestion met by strong objection from Angelina. More issues ensue when the judge and the entire jury fall in love with Angelina, and in typical Gilbert-esque style, the situation resolves in a most nonsensical way.

        Fact Sheet  

The Pittsburgh Savoyards is a semiprofessional non-profit theatre company based in the Pittsburgh community, founded in 1938.

The group’s name comes from the Savoy Theatre in London, where many of the operettas originally premiered.  

The current President of the company’s board of trustees is Michael Greenstein. Vice President is Andrea Carriker, Secretary is James Newsome, and Treasurer is Lynette Garlan. Board members serve two terms with alternating election years.  

he Trial by Jury and Gianni Schicchi double feature kicks off the Savoyards’ 79th season. Show dates and times are Oct. 7 at 8pm, Oct. 8 at 8pm, Oct. 9 at 2:30pm, Oct. 13 at 8pm, Oct. 14 at 8pm, Oct. 15 at 8pm, and Oct. 16 at 2:30pm. *Multiple roles are double cast.

The company will perform both operas each night.

A reception will follow the opening night performance. Those who attend the performance are invited to attend.

 Trial by Jury is the second collaboration between W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The comic opera is one act and originally debuted Mar. 25, 1875 at the Royalty Theatre in London.  Gianni Schicchi is a one-act comic opera by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. The libretto is by Giovacchino Forzano. The opera premiered on Dec. 14, 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.